Did you know that September is “National Atrial Fibrillation Week”? I didn’t. I also didn’t know that a study by the National Stroke Association found that half the people surveyed didn’t know the major symptoms of atrial fibrillation (Afib), such as heart palpitations. Or that 80% didn’t know that people can have Afib with no symptoms at all. I’m actually in the 20% on that question; I’ve had chronic asymptomatic Afib for years. One problem with Afib is that it can lead to other serious problems, such as blood clots that can cause stroke or heart failure.
It can be difficult to diagnose Afib, however, as it is often an intermittent condition in many patients. The chances of catching an arrhythmic episode while getting an ECG in a doctor’s office or hospital can be very small in some cases. As a result, the traditional procedure has been to equip a patient with a Holter monitor, which is a portable ECG recorder. The wires and sensors and attending gear are a nuisance (I can report firsthand about this) and even so, the gear is only worn for 24 hours in most cases.
iRhythm Technologies has come up with an alternative. Their FDA-cleared ZIO XT Service is based on a wearable patch monitor that can stay in place for 7 to 14 days at a time. It continuously monitors the patient’s heartbeats, even while sleeping. The patient then simply mails the patch to the company, where the data is downloaded to a secure system. Computer algorithms scan the data and highlight any arrhythmia events for further examination by a certified technician. The system then generates a report that includes the physician’s diagnosis. This extended monitoring period greatly increases the chances of detecting an arrhythmia, so patients who need it can get treatment that could prevent more serious complications.